Opinion

Dad's letters reveal bygone days

My father was a meticulous man. Each thing had a place, and everything was kept in its place.

He could send one of us kids to his garage to fetch a wrench from a particular hook, and we’d be able to find it right where he said ... if we listened to his instructions.

He was equally fastidious about keeping track of income, expenses, and correspondence.

When he came into the house with any mail addressed to him, he walked straight through the kitchen to his drop leaf desk in the living room, sat  on the arm of the sofa,  and filed the letter in its designated cubby.

The desk, of gleaming dark wood with spindly legs and so small it hid behind the open door to the upstairs, came from a neighbour’s farm auction.

Though I dusted the drop leaf’s carved design and smooth top every Saturday, I never peeked inside. In our home, we respected each other’s property and privacy. No lock was necessary.

So when the time came decades later to sort through Dad’s belongings, we were agog to find on a shelf over the door of Mom and Dad’s bedroom a neat packet of handwritten correspondence bound by a sturdy rubber band.

We all knew Dad stored his straight razor and hand-operated hair clippers on that shelf but  were unaware of his correspondence.

Dad had attended a country school in Manitoba where cursive writing was taught, practiced and used daily. With a marbled blue Waterman fountain pen he wrote a beautiful flowing hand.

At night, often after we had gone upstairs to do homework or go to bed, he would sit at the kitchen table writing a letter. He lacked carbon paper to make a copy; no doubt he kept pertinent notes.

The packet chronicled mainly the years from 1940 through 1947 when Dad penned many letters ordering repairs for the Hart Parr steel wheeled tractor. These repairs he ordered directly from the company in Iowa. In one letter he asked the cost of having the tractor’s block re-bored.

Another letter ordered 20 feet of angle iron from a foundry in Ontario.

He prepaid his orders by having my older brother hand-deliver the few dollars to the CNR agent, Roy Brownridge, who would wire the payment to the company.

In later years he would  buy a money order at the post office to pre-pay his orders and mail it off.

Those were the days when the post office was open six days a week. Still, ordering took patience to wait for a reply or delivery, and involved honesty and integrity from both parties – the one ordering, and the one supplying. In most cases, delivery of the order or a reply to his letter took a week or more.

One letter revealed a company had refunded Dad 26 cents; the cost of their product had dropped since they quoted Dad a price.

And if Dad forgot to include a vital dimension, or some other crucial detail that might result in the wrong result, he had no speedy way to correct it.

Picking up the phone was just not a common practice in those days. Which emphasizes how much careful thought and preparation he must have devoted to every letter he wrote.

More than one letter sought to place an ad in The Western Producer, or replied to someone’s else’s ad offering an item for sale. Every evening after supper Dad would settle in to read the Producer ads from beginning to end, but especially machinery ads.

He kept track in his memory of how long each ad had been running, and noted if an ad disappeared. The ads were  his daily entertainment. Dad’s letters convey a peek at life before  credit cards. emails and FedEx.

Claudette Sandecki keeps an eye on the world from her home in Thornhill.

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